| It's Not About the Bike: A Winter's Day on Mt. Lindsey
There’s nothing after Gardner, Colorado. Or, not much. A few rural households here and there along the road, then a long
stretch back to a state wildlife area, followed by a couple of vacant ranches. It’s a timeless, ethereal drive in the early
morning winter darkness.
Why would anyone want to seek high mountains in winter? Summer is lush, colorful, warm, wet, pleasant, alive. Winter is
cold and harsh; a canvas of colorless greys. Yet, the harshness of winter can evoke a quiet beauty. To experience the
mountain when everything is at rest in tacit winter repose can be truly magnificent; even more so for those willing to
journey into the profound quiet alone.
IT’S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE:
A WINTER’S DAY ON MT. LINDSEY
Peak: Mt. Lindsey
Route: NW Ridge
Date: January 9, 2013
Length: 22 miles
Vertical: 5400 feet
Ascent time: 7.5 hours
Ascent Party: Dancesatmoonrise
Mt. Linsdsey awash in late afternoon light.
Great Experiments in Tele Racing?
A long time ago, Tele skiing was in the dark ages. I went to a race in Utah. The only real Tele boot then was the Asolo Extreme; it was all-leather.
So those Utah guys were building their own. The favored technique was pickle barrels. You’d cut out pickle barrel plastic, affix alpine latches, and put
the thing around your leather boots. It was really kind of comical. As a joke, after one of her big wins, Kate Hasterlik wrote, “Thank you, Vlasic!” on
the back of her white pickle-barrel boots. It wasn’t long before we were beefing up the soles in the lateral plane so they would carve… but back to
the pickle barrels.
Voile (Wally, in Utah, whom they affectionately called “Voll-eh,”) had just started manufacturing releasable Tele bindings. I knew about
them, but figured after a million cartwheels, I didn’t need releasables. That was before plastic. Hooked a gate. Six surgeries, and more than a
year later, thanks to the boys at Lakewood Orthopedic, I was walking again. Even running gates again a couple years later. But back to the bike…
Columbine in early morning light along the Huerfano River drainage, July 2010.
A Life-long Love Affair.
Still in a post-op cast, Tommy Carr, one of the Tele racers, told me about this new thing called a mountain bike. The Fisher Montare was about
the only thing around then. Goofy looking by today’s standards, it got you into the mountains. I was still on crutches, but now, for the first
time in months, I could break a personal speed record of 0.5 miles per hour. I was in love. God Bless the Bike!
The 1985 Fisher Montare. (Internet photo.)
First generation Shimano: The “deer head” logo.
Early alpine orienteering, high above Winter Park, Colorado, with the Fisher Montare.
“Bullmoose” bars took the place of a stem.
The Fisher Montare was rigid front and rear. There wasn’t much on the bike to go wrong. I no longer have the Montare, but the 1987 Ross Schaffer
hand-built Salsa, raced in the Colorado Off-Road Series and the first unified Mountain Bike World Championships, still occupies the old bike stable.
It sports original SunTour XC Pro components from the 1989 race season. Of course, nowadays that stuff belongs in museums. Fortunately,
I myself have escaped such a fate. At least for the moment.
1990 Mountain Bike World Championships.
I still adore the bike, riding for fitness and enjoyment every day, all year long. At least, every day I’m not on a mountain.
Speaking of which, back to mountains…
Buddies in Badito.
Fear and Soloing on Winter 14ers
Winter comes this year, and I’m not feeling very motivated for 14ers. It’s probably because after the first three dozen, the winter 14ers start to
get scary. It’s hard to find skilled, interested partners outside the few that are already tight with their own partners. I remember (stupidly) turning
down the opportunity to partner with Steve on North Eolus. I didn't feel I was experienced enough, but it would have been a huge step forward.
Steve’s such a great guy, I’m sure if I'd said yes, I’d be up 4 Chicago Basin 14ers right now. (Or dead, not sure which…)
But what really gets my respect is the fact that both times Steve is looking for partners for Chicago Basin, and can’t find any, he goes solo. The
guy’s got balls. I can only say that I’ve experienced in some small part, the joy and self-satisfaction that comes from a good solo winter trip.
Like Steve, I prefer partners. And like Steve, if I can’t find qualified partners, I’ll go solo. Only, I think I may worry more than Steve. God knows
I can’t sleep before a serious winter solo attempt, but on the other hand, once the feet are on the ground, all of that disappears, and becomes
a joy, a satisfaction, a communion with Earth; a microcosm of its own, devoid of the cares and concerns of our day to day reality:
A joy which any of us has the ability to experience, given the courage to go forth into the quiet.
Summer's rich floral bouquet adorns the Huerfano basin.
Biking a 14er in Winter?
In the wake of a successful Longs winter attempt on January 4, 2013, the warm weather continues into the following Wednesday. It would be
frankly criminal to waste a windless winter day in the alpine with minimal avy danger. Lindsey is one of the few easier ones remaining; a long daytrip
for sure, but doable. Friends are headed for Redcloud/Sunshine, which I “need.” But it’s been too long since wading the baptismal waters in
personal confirmation of solo communion on a winter 14er. I need to go see God.
Just for the record, some folks ask if being that far back, alone, without a phone, or a GPS, or a spot device, is scary. Well, yes. But more so the day
before the trip. I pick up the phone and call Paul for beta, since his group was in there last month. I’m totally bummed to learn he had to carry skis
most of the way up the road. I can barely ski those sticks any more, much less carry them. OK, that’s out. Maybe this whole trip is out. Twenty-two
miles round trip, a fourth class ridge, solo, winter, parking nearly a mile below the Singing River Ranch due to private property? Screw it. I’m out.
Twenty minutes later I'm tossing everything in the car. What about the bike? Certainly, the bike is larger than a cell phone, but it's smaller than a
Honda Pilot hopelessly stuck in the snow. Under extreme duress, it could be the only taxi back to Gardner. Sure. Throw it in.
I hit the hay and try to get four hours of sleep. I’m awake before the alarm.
Dawn on the 580 Forest Road to Mt. Lindsey.
The drive to Walsenburg is a breeze at 4 am. Deputy Joe Albano of Gardner (absolutely great guy, by the way) assures me there are no issues if one
parks below the SRR. Deputy Albano has my name, plates, and vehicle description, and he’s on SAR. I let him know I have no intention whatsoever
of using his services. We share a laugh. These are good folks.
A warm day is forecast, belying the 6 degree pre-dawn chill in the drainage. I drive to the SRR anyway, to see if I can pass, and recall Paul’s admonitions
that Matt and crew had to drive backwards quite some distance to end up parking below the ranch. I head back down and park at the end of the wildlife
area, at the pull-out on the west side, about 0.8 miles below the ranch. It’s 6:30 am. I’ve got boots, snowshoes, skis, a bike, a sleeping bag, and no
clear plan. Still half asleep, I look at the road, scratch my head, and pull out the bike. I tentatively put the pack on, mount the bike, and try a little
riding on the snow.
I'm sure they nust do this in Alaska. And maybe Crested Butte.
Before long, I’m riding a bicycle on a snowpacked road somewhere in Huerfano County in the middle of the night in January. You pretty much have to be
not right to even consider doing winter 14ers.
Lindsey’s Winter Route.
There’s presumably a caretaker for the lower of the two ranches, though the sole dim light illuminating a building in the distance off the road in the
pre-dawn night discerns no human activity. I find it odd to be approaching a winter 14er by bike. The air is crisp; the darkness, hushed.
In surprisingly little time, the Aspen River Ranch appears in the darkness to my left. The road in remains snowpacked. Studded Nokian snow tires
continue to grip, the full suspension carbon fiber 29er still wants to dig in and move forward. I ride the carbon pony into daybreak.
Carbon pony at dawn.
Easy to get unstuck when it high-centers.
Paul’s beta is spot-on. Many dry hills after the last ranch make a perfect day’s ride by any measure. The bike rules, making quick time till a mile from
the forest boundary, where the snow is just too much for even a Pugsley. Fair enough, time to derail this horsing around and get to business. It’s
intermittent postholing for the next few miles to the summer TH, where I give it up and plug feet into these unwieldy beartraps they euphemistically
It’s a gorgeous day, and a beautiful sojourn into pristine winter wilderness.
My predecessors’ tracks have long ago evaporated in the new Christmas snow which followed their successful ascent. Luckily, a sole unsung hero has
since gone in on skis. Not a great track, but most helpful for route-finding, until the secret sharer decides to turn back.
There are two tricky route-finding problems in winter. The first is finding the correct spot at which to turn left, up the drainage into the alpine. One
locates the drainage by finding the huge rock wall to the left, beyond which is a treed, moderate slope. Between these is a break, which lets in
the morning sun: this is the spot. If one is on or near the summer trail, a boulder field is encountered early on. The summer trail traverses below
the boulders into steep trees, still south of the gully proper. When the slope angle backs off, one moves into the gully.
The break in the drainage is just beyond the first rock wall.
The snow below the boulders is crapola, a technical term for “would be scary if steeper.” Put another way, snow depth is 6” greater than the snowpack.
That last half foot provides no resistance to the Joe-six-pack pole-thrust technique, a quick and dirty method utilized when one lacks the technical savvy
to waste time digging a snow pit. In the trees, the snowpack feels a lot better.
The other route-finding issue comes in the alpine. In summer, with a trail and cairns and a route description, it’s no issue. Map and compass provide
a sort of surrogate vision of the high peaks which is lacking in the lower alpine basin due to the surrounding hills, as the guidance previously afforded
by my unknown ski-peer is now a thing of the late morning passed.
Speaking of which, I need to summit by 2:00 or 2:30 to get down through the sketchy sections in daylight. There is an area of concern within
the steeps in the trees and transition to the gully. Better upshift into high if this effort is going to be successful.
Remnants of Matt's crew.
Blanca and Gash Ridge.
Matt’s TR is my first introduction to the NW ridge having a “down-climb crux.” Taking the trail to the ridge in summer, one does not encounter this,
and given low snow, it can be avoided in winter as well. But as with most alpine ridges, the ridge proper is more stable (less loose rock) than anything
on the face below. Besides, I’m curious. Thus it happens that I encounter the Grabina Crux.
Class 3/4 ahead.
Looking back down the ridge.
Exposure on the crux downclimb.
Don't forget the poles.
The downclimb. Stay right.
There's this perfect knob halfway up the downclimb crux. Worth using.
Above the third class.
I keep firmly in mind the balance between speed, the desire for the summit, and caution. Things go well. Yet, Lindsey is a mountain which
apparently enjoys sharing its sense of humor with its patrons. After all that crux stuff, here we are, standing on a false summit, out of time.
On the false summit, looking at the real deal.
I smile, having forgotten about this false summit. Three headlamps with spare batteries quietly whisper to just keep on going.
Mt Lindsey's summit in winter.
The home peak.
Somehow, I’m leaving the true summit by 2:30 pm. Is there really a bike ride waiting down there somewhere? The down-climb goes without a hitch,
though with plenty of caution. The avy area is still in daylight and goes well.
Someone was up this way this morning. Oh wait.
Now at the bottom, the drainage floor is phenomenally beautiful at dusk. Memories of summer crash gently in the fading light, like massless waves
of surf against my consciousness. I want mid-summer, a flyrod, a blonde, some beers, and a nearby tent. Admittedly, the hallucinations are more
complex than the standard dead-tired post-slog mirage of cheeseburgers, but the syndrome is familiar. It’s almost completely dark. Ah, the summer
trailhead. Enough stubbornness. I can barely see anything on this moonless night. Let’s give it up and get out the headlamp.
The upper basin.
The meadow near dark.
Summer trailhead: A long way in.
The old cabin along FR 580.
From here, the view never changes: A big ball of light, a snowpacked road, a track up the middle. You know the drill. You’re dead sure you
missed some important turnoff in the darkness. You almost turn back to check. You carefully verify that the tracks you’re following are your own.
Satisfied for the moment, you continue. Only to question again in five minutes. This goes on, of course, for miles.
Ah, finally, the tracks of a familiar friend. Unless some insane person rode a bike up here... Oh, wait. Nevermind.
Soon the waffle irons trade out for wheels, scrubbing 3-4 miles off in a matter of minutes, sitting on my butt. A sub-alpine glissade.
That’s the way you do it. Why didn’t I think of this?
Hey cutie, wanna ride?
The headlamp does a fine job illuminating the road ahead. Before long the Aspen River Ranch passes on the right, then the Singing River Ranch.
The road gets faster and easier. Soon the car appears. All told, about two-thirds of the route is done by traditional means; one-third by bike.
The short way home.
So good to be at the car. I dig into the cooler for a beer, pull the wheels off and wipe down the bike, start packing up, and begin to muse:
How much snow do you suppose is on the standard Stewart Creek TH approach to San Luis right now? Is it possible that…. I mean, I’ve always
wanted to go that way, just because… Nah. No way...
But really, it’s not about the bike.
Thanks for reading.